1. Sturt National Park, NSW
Outback New South Wales epitomises so much of what the Australian Outback represents – big skies, raw landscapes and testing conditions – and Sturt National Park turns this combination into an artform. Stretching from Tibooburra in the east to the heart of Corner Country in the west, Sturt is filled with pastoral and ancient history to match the red colouration of everything from sand to gibber plains.
The explorer Charles Sturt encountered the region’s seemingly-endless plains in 1845; at the time, he was on hunt for the fabled inland sea that many thought existed in the centre of Australia. With multiple tracks on offer today, the park is now a first-class off-road destination. There are also scenic highlights such as Tibooburra’s granite tors, as well as evidence of local tribes in the form of ancient middens and stone relics.
2. Cape Leveque, WA
What happens when you combine Kimberley landscapes with Western Australia coastline? The answer is Cape Leveque: stretching north from Broome to a tapered tip, the Cape is a brilliant collision of bright red sand and sparkling beaches overlooked by distinctive pindan cliffs.
Visiting Cape Leveque is often a by-product of a larger Kimberley sojourn, but it’s also a region that stands on its own as a touring and off-road destination. Numerous tracks and campsites shoot off from the corrugated basin that is the Broome Cape Leveque Road, giving travellers plenty of options on how to spend their time while in the area. This includes a trip to the tip of the Cape, a night at any of Kooljaman, One Arm Point or Gambarnan or even a stop-in at the famous Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.
In addition to excellent campsites and some interesting tracks, the Cape also has an enduring link to the area’s local tribes, including the Bardi Jawi and the Karajarri, while it’s only a few hours’ drive from Derby and the beginning of the Gibb River Road.
3. Simpson Desert, SA, NT and QLD
Packed with over 1100 dunes, the Simpson Desert is the largest parallel dune desert in the world. Its classic red colouration is universal throughout, making it one of Australia’s most recognisable Outback regions.
The most common route across the Simmo is heading from Birdsville to Mt Dare across the QAA and French Line, however other potential routes are the WAA Line and the Rig Road, the northern Madigan Line or the north-south Hay River Track. Whichever course you take, you’ll be met with a blanket of red that ripples to the horizon.
4. Innamincka Regional Reserve, SA
In the middle of the Strzelecki Desert’s dune country are a series of lakes called the Coongie Lakes. Situated 100km from the outpost of Innamincka, the Coongie Lakes sit amongst tall, rich red sand dunes – a fascinating contrast between the wetland and the surrounding desert country. The lakes are internationally recognised by RAMSAR for their significance, and this fact is backed by the wide array of bird and marine life that inhabit them.
The journey to Malkumba-Coongie Lakes National Park is not an easy one, with corrugations aplenty as you get closer to the prize at the end of the track. However, with plenty of spacious waterside campsites available in the park it’s easy to spend a few days enjoying the tranquil oasis that is Coongie Lakes.
5. Murray Sunset National Park
Victoria’s northwest region is a semi-arid paradise for Outback travellers, and no place more so than Murray Sunset National Park. While it’s initially accessible by a well-maintained gravel road, much of Murray Sunset is undulating dune country that needs some skill to traverse (especially in the north).
Within the park are a host of attractions, including relics from the region’s salt mining history, the famous pink lakes, dry salt pans and endless Mallee scrub that typifies the region. However, despite its appearance and common expression of being ‘desert country’, no part of Murray Sunset National Park is technically desert. In fact, there are no deserts in Victoria – but if you sit among the orange and red hues of Murray Sunset, you’ll swear that’s not the case.